Without pretending this will be as exhaustive as the Clothes on Film costume guide (parts ONE and TWO) for Sherlock Holmes (2009), here we go with a lighter, though still hopefully informative analysis of its sequel, A Game of Shadows (2011, directed by Guy Ritchie). Again the film’s costume designer has lent a hand, and again Oscar winner Jenny Beavan needs no further introduction. So not pausing for backstory or padding and on the assumption of spoilers ahead, let us begin…
John Watson (Jude Law) is introduced first sitting at his desk in a grey herringbone tweed waistcoat, white striped stiff collar shirt and brown patterned necktie. Always in tweed, he is immediately recognisable as Law’s Watson. The only item missing is his brown coachman’s hat, which as the story flashes back several weeks prior soon makes its debut.
With just a hint of colourfully attired extras in a crowded London street, wearing capes, bonnets, frock coats and early lounge suits we immediately know the era: late Victorian, 1891 to be exact. Historical accuracy is necessary, and certainly as a snapshot of the past this scene is correct, but the most important role of costume in this context is to show the audience what we expect to see; to escort us gently back into the past.
Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) returns to the world of Sherlock Holmes surprisingly quickly, though does not remain around for long. She arrives in a dark blue velvet mantle over Egyptian blue satin dress lined in fuchsia with matching blue and fuchsia bustle, and black leather gloves. In this instance Jenny Beavan re-used an old costume, “I wanted to show the continuity of character but made a new cape to go over it, or mantle is probably a very good description. Rachel McAdams was going to have a stunt double so I made two new capes in case but in the event she did her own stunts and only needed the one”.
Adler’s hat, essentially a variant on the male bowler with an upturned brim and narrower crown to sit atop the head rather than around it, was generally chosen for travelling. Note the lack of extraneous ornamentation on her outfit as English fashion temporarily moved away from showy French dominance in the early 1890s. This is also indicative of Adler’s chic, but relaxed and no-nonsense style.
As a tip-off for much of his appearance in A Game of Shadows, our first glimpse of Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is in disguise; as a elderly Chinese man in blue and taupe Hafu robe, brown trousers and cap. This ensemble is relatively common in images from the era, reflecting the small number of Chinese immigrants living and working in London’s Limehouse district. Holmes’ disguise is absurd, it is supposed to be; this helps instil his enemies with a false sense of security.
There is a lot of tweed in this movie, worn by Watson, Holmes and several of the minor villains (especially apparent on those escorting Adler). Tough, unfinished tweed was born in the country for sporting pursuits. As such it promotes a feeling of the great outdoors. Being as A Game of Shadows takes place away from any major cities for the majority of its duration, this fabric fits both narrative and character purposes.
Although secluded in shadow, we soon have our first reveal of Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) in black frock coat, black brocade waistcoat and stand collar shirt with black four-in-hand necktie. The frock coat, with its straight cut front edges evolved from the more formal tail coat, had been steadily popular in London since around 1815. In fact by the 1890s it was in decline as the more practical lounge suit took over for good.
Moriarty is in ‘criminal mastermind’ mode during his scene with Adler; his guise as a lecturer is actually a means to an end, to live a respected public life beyond suspicion. Moreover this was a late addition to the script, with Moriarty’s expose originally intended to take place later in the story, “We didn’t want to give the game away with a black outfit initially but then blew it in the additional photography when he is in the restaurant wearing black” confirms Beavan. What makes Moriarty such a wonderful addition in terms of costume is his innate stiffness. We have already misjudged him as all brain and no brawn.
Following a quick peek at Holmes in black frock coat with velvet collar, upturned spread collar shirt, brown silk waistcoat and brown patterned scarf worn as an ascot, the opening titles take us to Watson. He strolls with Gladstone the dog to his old lodgings at 221b Baker Street in three quarter length brown gabardine slip-on, blue and red stripe ceremonial trousers, brown coachman’s hat, brown leather gloves and dress boots, blue and brown stripe knitted scarf and poking out beneath his coat, the famous Blues Patrol military tunic. Beavan admits it was a popular item, “The Blues coat is very suitable to get married in. And, of course, Jude does look very good in it”.
Apart from the uniform trousers, scarf and slip-on, these are all garments seen on Watson during Sherlock Holmes 1. Watson is a consistent dresser, a reliable man, “I like the idea of a character’s continuity, even over two and maybe three films” notes Beavan. “I did the same with Cranford (mid-19th century set TV mini-series from 2007). Just because it is a new series or film there is no need to change the costumes”. Plus this approach is a reminder that clothes during the Victorian era were built to last.
The scarf is symbolic of Watson as the soon to be married man; “One of Mary’s early efforts… a fashion faux pas” scorns Holmes. Before changing into a white linen spread collar shirt (single cuffs unbuttoned), Holmes wears a union suit and hood painted to precisely mimic the decor in his study (really more of an indoor wilderness). Surprisingly though we have to wait until the final moments of A Game of Shadows to see the pay off for this peculiar set up.
Both men head off for Watson’s stag night in the most conspicuous manner possible – via motor car (“So overt, it’s covert!” argues Holmes). Behind the wheel, Holmes has donned a false beard, dark and golden brown striped silk scarf, brown homburg hat, goggles and voluminous moleskin coat. Beavan even created her own backstory for the piece, “I thought Holmes might have appropriated the coat from whomever he got the car from. It’s like an old fashioned Carhardt / Drizabone garment but still based on an old driving coat”. It was made new and aged for the film, “Driving cars was pretty messy in those days” she adds.
When Holmes and Watson arrive at the Shush club they are greeted by Mycroft (Stephen Fry), stepping from the shadows in tall topper, black velvet collar cape, stand collar, white tie and walking cane. Beavan felt that bar any obvious eccentricity, such as the odd naked stroll among his house guests, Mycroft would be part of the ‘establishment’, “In our version Mycroft is very particular, quaint even in his habits and he seemed to work best in straightforward clothes, not trying to be too clever”. In this respect he is the costume antithesis of his brother Sherlock.
Inside the club we see Holmes eschews the traditional evening tail coat in favour of a black double breasted frock with velvet lapels, black brocade waistcoat featuring brass buttons and high waisted black trousers worn with braces and belt. This same frock coat was sported by Holmes during several scenes in Sherlock Holmes 1.
Then we are introduced to Madam Simza ‘Sim’ Heron (Noomi Rapace), the firecracker gypsy who joins Holmes and Watson on and off for the rest of the story. Sim is costumed to reflect Romani tradition which can be traced far back from the East to Europe, “Her fortune telling outfit had a base in an Indian costume I had found in Cosprop’s deepest recesses. The little waistcoat was based on an original again from Cosprop, remade by Jane Law in multiples and the embroidery done by Gavin Hurter” explains Beavan:
“The blouse the same and the skirts were made in the manner of an Indian gagra skirt, a Rajasthan speciality of lots of gored panels so it is slim at the waist but goes into a huge swirling hem. The fabric came from a wonderful Indian shop in Rome where I was already getting shoes and general stock for the film from the Italian costume houses, and they had some very rare cotton saris in very bright colours. Rare because everything is poly cotton now from India, the wonderful original cottons are being superseded by the modern non iron stuff!” When Sim tussles with a Cossack assassin, her embellished skirt whips and spins revealing the pleats of this beautiful fabric, fortuitously caught in an overhead camera angle.
From fisticuffs at the club to peace and quiet of the countryside for Watson’s wedding. The groom is not at his best, with the right sleeve on his Blues tunic literally detached from its shoulder he finds a black crushed velvet frock coat with blue face lapels, brown and gold paisley pattern stand collar waistcoat and gold patterned silk scarf. Mary (Kelly Reilly) is altogether more regal, her ivory wedding dress with full skirt and lace trim was designed by Beavan, “It’s very simple and Mary-ish. Oftentimes, less is more”.
Read Part 2 HERE.
With thanks to Jenny Beavan.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 14th May.
© 2012 – 2021, Lord Christopher Laverty.